How To Compose With Curves

While many of the rules of composition are meant to be broken, they are still worth learning and considering whenever you are framing a photograph. Curves add movement to what would otherwise be a stagnant image. While sharp, straight lines can seem a little harsh and dramatic, curved lines move the viewer’s eye throughout the image naturally. There are many different types of curves that you use to create an interesting composition, and many different ways to use them depending on what you want the particular mood or meaning of your photograph to be.

Leading Lines

You may be familiar with the term ‘leading line’. A leading line takes your eye from one point of the photograph to another, following along a single line. Many are familiar with leading lines down a long trail or railroad, but many are not as familiar with the curve as a leading line. By using a curved line instead of straight, the viewer’s eye moves more naturally along the composition. In the photograph below, you can see how the curved line running through the center of the photograph gradually leads the viewer’s eye through the photograph, running through the fields of green and yellow in the foreground straight back to the red barn in the background. Using a curved line allows you to take in the entire photograph before reaching the final destination.

Photo by Tim Massaro

Photograph by Tim Massaro

Spiral Curves

When used in a composition, spiral curves tend to take the viewer’s eye to one center point, yet not as drastically as if it were one straight line. While the center point is not always in the center of the composition, it is always in the center of the spiral. If you choose to use a spiral curve in your composition, it’s important to not include any other distracting subjects. Any subjects outside of the spiral curve and main focus point will distract the viewer and they will have a hard time figuring out what to focus on. As you see in the photograph below, the spiral staircase converges into one central point, which is marked by a soft green color. In this photograph, it is hard to focus on anything but the central spiral that leads to that green.

Photo by Maerten Prins

Photograph by Maerten Prins

Curves of the Human Body

When thinking about composing with curves, many photographers don’t take into consideration the many curves of a human body. While the exact contours of a human body are not as noticeable when covered in clothes, once the body is undressed it becomes a beautiful landscape of many different curves and contours. While women are traditionally thought of as being “curvier” than men, the same beautiful curves can be found in a man’s body as well. Many photographers have used the human form to create beautiful, abstract photographs that must be viewed intently before determining exactly what the subject matter is. In the photograph below, can you tell what part of the human body you are looking at?

Photo by Alejandro Monge

Photograph by Alejandro Monge

Curves in Repetition

Using curves that repeat throughout a photograph can create a beautiful abstract photograph. When using curves in repetition, it’s important to use curves that are all very aesthetically similar to each other. This may mean that they are all moving in the same direction or they all work within the same color scheme; repetitive compositions that work within variations of the same hue are more effective than those with too many different colors. When using this compositional technique, the simpler the better. In the photograph of Antelope Canyon below, it can be hard to discern exactly what the photograph is of unless you know that this place exists. The natural, repeating curves and the varying hues of pink and orange all work together to create a beautiful, abstract photograph.

Photo by Jensen Lau

Photograph by Jensen Lau

Curves in the Foreground

Composing with curves in the foreground can help break up an otherwise monotonous image. These curves can separate the foreground from the background, or even a foreground and a middle ground from a background, as you can see in the image below. The image of the sand dunes essentially has three different parts; the foreground and middle ground of the photograph are both accentuated through the use of curved lines. The curves in the foreground are vertical, the curves in the middle ground are diagonal, and then the sky is a completely separate entity in the background.

Photo by Rob Overcash

Photograph by Rob Overcash

Curves to Create Contrast

Using curves to create contrast is most effective when shooting monochromatically. As you can see in the photograph below, the image is made up of many different curves going many different directions. In this particular photograph, the photographer chose to combine curved lines with straight lines, creating a very interesting and complex composition. Because the image is so complex, choosing to shoot the image in black and white reduces the sense of being overwhelmed. When looking at a monochromatic image, you can focus solely on the curves and lines and overall contrast of the image; the way in which all of these things play into each other. If the photograph was taken in color, the viewer’s eye would be too overwhelmed to take in any of this information.

Photo by Edwin Jones

Photograph by Edwin Jones

There is no one right way to play with curves. As with all rules of composition, the rules are meant to be broken. It is, however, important to be aware of the way in which curves are helping or hurting your own compositions. The more you are aware of the curves that appear in everyday life, the more complex and beautiful your compositions will become.

To learn more about composition and other advanced photography techniques, enroll in a photography degree at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles today!

Not Bound By The Rules: An Interview With NYFA Musical Theatre Instructor And Writer/Composer Bobby Cronin

We recently sat down with NYFA musical theatre instructor and award-winning writer/composer Bobby Cronin to talk about his approach to songwriting, his successful productions that include the musicals Concrete Jungle and Daybreak, and what advice he’d give to aspiring composers.


Bobby Cronin: I’m Bobby Cronin and I teach Pop Rock, Musical Theatre, Audition, and I write some of the scores for the films at the New York Film Academy.

NYFA: Would you mind telling us about your background and what drew you towards your career path?

BC: My background is technically as a director. And Yale’s program as a director you had to study acting. And then I knew I wanted to do musical theatre, Yale did not have musical theatre so I then got to have my music minor turned into a double major in the theatre program so I left having quite an extensive knowledge of music and theatre and I had, like, Maury Yeston was my professor who wrote Titanic. So as a kid it was all ear, all ear. Like no piano lessons, no nothing. And I think that’s actually helped me tremendously, is that I’m not as bound by the rules, but I know the rules. But I let my ear do most of the work.

NYFA: When composing a musical theatre project, what comes first, the songs or the story?

BC: I would say it switches all of the time. Most of the time it’s story because I’ve gotten to the point where time is really important so I know if I’m going to write something it has to be very specifically for a moment. And that’s what makes a good song anyway. I was mentioning that you can be a songwriter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that writing for musical theatre or writing for film is the same thing, because you do have to advance the story. The song has to have a different beat at the end than it had at the beginning or else you’re not going anywhere, you’re not advancing the story, which is why for me, I’m now going to change my answer, it’s always the story. It really is always the story. And then it’s how do I enhance the story, how do I come up with the right hook because for me that’s everything, the hook. Whether it’s a lyric hook or a music hook, something has to have the audience walking out remembering that tune and what it did in the story. I don’t want them to just remember the tune, I want them to remember what happened.

NYFA: Would you advise aspiring composers to adapt existing property when developing their first production?

BC: I would say that using existing material for early projects is excellent. You already have an arc. You already have your characters drawn for you. And then it’s you figuring out “How do I want to tell this story?” For instance, with Christmas Carol, I wanted it contemporary, how do we make it contemporary, how do we put it in to today, but paying respect to the actual property. And coming up with the hook of how to tell that story made it work. To keep it contemporary.

NYFA: What opportunities do you feel musical theatre offers for exploring complex themes of self and sexuality?

BC: Well, I think contemporary musical theatre, it yearns for exciting themes, interesting themes, darker themes. You know, it’s interesting. If you go back to something like Carousel, it’s actually really dark and I think that people think of the old musicals as, you know, cheesy, and they really weren’t. They pushed the envelope a little. What I think we try to do today is to really push it. And why not? Why not push it?

So for instance with Daybreak I wanted toexplore a struggle with sexuality whereas with Concrete Jungle there are two gay characters that that’s not what they’re about. They just happen to be gay. In fact, it’s just about love for them. Also with Daybreak I was dealing with suicide, just darkness, mental illness and…why not? You know, why not? These are things that we face every day and I think we want to be challenged as an audience today. And I also think that things like Netflix, all these shows that are really brave and really pushing the envelope. It’s making the audience want more. They don’t want just high kicks and high notes anymore. They want to be challenged. And I think that’s why Next to Normal did so well, is that not only was it really contemporary, but it really challenged your brain as to “What is normal?”

NYFA: Do you have any advice for aspiring composers just starting and is there anything you know now you wish you knew then?

BC: Advice-wise, get your stuff out there. Work with good people, surround yourself with people who want greatness for you and don’t sweat the small stuff at all. There’s always going to be small stuff. Look to the future. Build a future. Figure out which actors you want to be working with and approach them. The worst they can say is “No.” And then they’ll recommend somebody. But then they recognize your name and that’s what is important. But you have to get your stuff out there and you have to have projects. Don’t just have songs, have projects.

Follow Bobby on social media by checking out his YouTube channel and on Twitter.